smoking

A team of scientists used data from genome-wide association studies to identify genetic variations associated with key smoking behaviors. They found three genetic regions were associated with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, one region was associated with smoking initiation, and one variant was associated with smoking cessation. “We hope that this work will allow researchers from multiple disciplines to develop a better understanding of the genetics of addiction,” says Helena Furberg. (Credit: iStockphoto)

UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US)—Researchers have associated genetic variants with certain smoking behaviors. The study suggests the variants may affect whether a person will start to smoke, how much they’ll smoke, and if they are able to quit.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Genetics, the team reported that three genetic regions were associated with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, one region was associated with smoking initiation, and one variant was associated with smoking cessation.

The variants on chromosome 15 that were associated with heavy smoking lie within a region that contains nicotinic receptor genes, which other scientists have previously associated with nicotine dependence and lung cancer.

“We hope that this work will allow researchers from multiple disciplines to develop a better understanding of the genetics of addiction and evaluate how drug-gene interactions could be used to create and tailor therapies to improve the rates of smoking cessation,” says Helena Furberg, a genetics faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Furberg, and Patrick Sullivan, also a genetics faculty members UNC Chapel-Hill, led the Tobacco and Genetics Consortium, considered to be the largest genetic study of smoking, collaborating with scientists from 16 large genetic studies worldwide to compare the DNA marker profiles between smokers and non-smokers.

“More work needs to be done before these findings can be used to treat smokers who wish to quit. At this time, testing for these variants will not tell you anything meaningful about your risk of smoking or nicotine dependence.

“Of course, all smokers should be encouraged to quit regardless of their genetic make-up,” she adds.

Genome-wide association studies search for genetic variants involved in a disease that may ultimately help diagnose, and treat—or even prevent—the disease.

Because smoking behavior is associated with many health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, the researchers were able to assemble more data to test the links between genetic variants and smoking than any one study could provide alone.

In addition to funding from a UNC Lineberger University Cancer Research Fund Innovation Award, the research was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute and multiple agencies that funded participating studies.

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